Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Interview Series: Delaware Great Mike Pegues

October 24th, 2010
In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Delaware great Mike Pegues, who led the Blue Hens to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT berth as well. Formerly part of the staff at reigning CBI champion Virginia Commonwealth, the all-time leading scorer in UD history is now back at his alma mater as an assistant coach.

Jon Teitel: Both of your parents (Mike and Sharon) played Division II basketball. Do you think that part of your success is due to genetics, and what did they teach you about the game?

Mike Pegues: I do think that a huge part of my success was due to my mom and dad both having played college basketball. Each of them loved the game with great passion and were really good players in their own right. They both had a great deal to do with my growth and development as a player through their teaching, support, and occasional chastising. My mother worked for the DC Department of Parks and Recreation for nearly 40 years, and this served as a huge advantage for me because I would go to work with her and play basketball pretty much all day long. She would even beat me in games of 1-on-1 as a youngster and help me repair my flaws. My dad and I would also play 1-on-1, and I did not beat him until I got to high school. On Sunday mornings I would play outdoors with him and his friends, and I really developed my competitive edge by playing against adults. Of course, they did not let me play until I had a mustache! Mainly, my parents taught me the importance of good sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, hard work, and respect for the game.

JT: In 1992 you suffered 13 seizures and slipped into a three-day coma due to encephalitis resulting from chicken pox. How close did you come to dying, and what impact did that experience have on the rest of your life?

I came very close to dying. It was a very sad time for my family. The financial burden for my parents in having to fly across the country to Yakima, WA was a huge strain on them for years afterwards. The funny thing is that my team managed to stay alive in the 14-and-under AAU national tournament, and as soon as I was released from the hospital I asked my mom if I could play...but of course she said no! Life becomes far more precious after something like that, and from that point on I really aspired to do everything to the best of my ability. I also cherished my teammates, family, and friends a great deal more than I had before.

JT: At DeMatha HS you played for legendary coach Morgan Wootten, even though you began school as a 6'5", 280-pound freshman. What did you learn from Coach Wootten, and how were you able to get in shape after being so out of shape?

The first thing I learned from Coach Wootten was that I would never play for him if I did not get into shape. Ironically, Joe Wootten (the coach's son) weighed me in, and from that point on he and the other assistant coaches (including Pat Smith) helped me immensely in my quest to lose weight. They would run with me in the neighborhood and really encourage me to get in shape so that I could become a good player. Coach Wootten was huge for my development, particularly with my fundamentals. I felt that I had a good feel for the game because of my parents and the time I spent around basketball coaches and playground legends in DC. However, Coach Wootten took my understanding of the game to new heights with the various drills and skill work that he taught; being around his basketball camp was a huge plus as well. To get in shape, I simply stopped eating fast food and would try to run in some form nearly every day. Whether on the court, on the track, or running through the streets of Hyattsville, MD, from 1992-1996 you could find me running somewhere!

JT: In 1996 you were one of two DeMatha players who were named to the private school WCAC First Team (future NBA player Keith Bogans was a 2nd-team pick). How good was your team if Bogans was only the third-best player on the team?

We had a very good team my senior year. I believe that Greg Harris (who went on to play at Mount St. Mary's) was our other first team performer. In addition, Brian Westbrook (of the Philadelphia Eagles) was our back-up PG, and Joe Forte (future NBA first round pick) played on the JV team, so we had a very talented program. However, I still believe that we could have been even better.

JT: After high school you went to Delaware to play for Coach Mike Brey (a fellow DeMatha alum). Why did you choose Delaware, and what did you learn from Coach Brey?

I went to Delaware because they chose me. Coach Brey did a great job convincing me that I was their #1 priority, and at the time I was not interested in waiting to play, even if it meant that I would not be going to a high-major school. Coach Brey was a great coach for me. He knew how to push my buttons and motivate me into competing at a high level everyday, no matter the circumstances. He knew how good I could be and refused to let me take shortcuts. What I learned most from him was how important it is to be focused, prepared, and ready to go for practices and games no matter who your opponent is.

JT: From 1998-2000 you were a three-time First Team All-CAA selection (the only such performer in Delaware history). How did you make the leap from freshman year, and how were you able to continue to dominate throughout the rest of your college career?

Greg Smith (the school's all-time leading scorer before I broke his record) was absolutely huge for me because I wanted to be better than him. He would abuse me a lot of times in practice, and I wanted nothing more than to return the favor. I worked really hard that year to get better, and I put in a lot of work during the summer before my sophomore year. I was also fortunate to play with some really great players who made me look good. Looking back, I can remember just wanting to be better than everyone else, especially the guys that played my position. I did not even want it to be close.

JT: What are your memories of the 1998 NCAA Tournament in Chicago (Pegues scored 17 points in a loss to Purdue, who was led by Brad Miller's 15 points on 7-11 FG)?

What was great about that year was winning the America East title when no one gave us a chance. I still remember that feeling of knowing that I was going to play in the NCAA Tournament, which was something that I had dreamed of doing as a kid. Playing in the same arena as the Chicago Bulls was a tremendous feeling...until the referees tossed the ball up in the air and Purdue jumped all over us with a 17-0 run! I still remember Coach Brey's words at halftime after being down 53-17, "Fellas: we ain't gonna get this one, but let's try to go out there and win the 2nd half." It was a crushing feeling to say the least, but no less a great experience overall. I just felt bad that it was the last game for my close friend Keith Davis, who was a senior on that team.

JT: In 1999 you scored a career-high 38 points (16-19 FT) against Hartford. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?

I had a good shooting game that night, but I made a ton of free throws as well. It was one of those games where I felt like nobody could guard me.

JT: In 1999 you were the first Delaware men's basketball player to be named conference Player of the Year. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?

Not really. I knew that I scored a bunch that year, but winning games was the most important thing to me. Had we not won the league that year, I would have been immensely disappointed. We had a great team that year. I was surrounded by great shooters, and we had an experienced point guard in Tyrone Perry, so they did a great job of making things easy for me.

JT: What are your memories of the 1999 NCAA Tournament (Pegues had 23 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Tennessee)?

Along with the city championship during my senior year of high school, that is one of the two games that I look back on and wish that I could have back. We should have won that game. I never told this to anyone, but I sprained my ankle pretty bad in the America East title game against Drexel, and I was just not healthy enough to really explode the way that I planned to. Nonetheless, we still had our chances and simply did not do enough to get it done; that was one we should have got!!!!!

JT: In the 2000 America East Tournament final you had 19 points and nine rebounds in a seven-point loss to Hofstra (Speedy Claxton had 24 points and eight assists to earn tournament MOP honors). What was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards, and could you tell at the time that Claxton was going to become a star?

The mood was somber to say the least. I honestly felt like we had some tough calls go our way, and in spite of those calls we did not do enough to overcome adversity. It was a hostile atmosphere that year, after we had played the two previous championship games at home. Speedy was tremendous. One of the best players I have ever played against. I knew he was good, but I did not realize that he was going to play in the NBA at that time, nor his teammate Norman Richardson. Both of them were great players and true competitors.

JT: What are your memories of the 2000 NIT (Pegues had 24 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Villanova)?

I cried for about 30 minutes after that game, and so did just about everyone else in that locker room, including Coach Brey. We knew it had finally come to an end, and it hurt. That game was a testament to the guys I played with as well as our coaching staff. We were down big early in that game and were on the verge of getting blown out, but then we made a great comeback and nearly surprised Nova, but just came up a little short.

JT: In 2000 you were named an Academic All-American. What role did academics play in your life, and how rigorous were your classes?

I was a Mass Media Communication major. I had ambitions of sports broadcasting at the time and wanted to be like one of my idols: James Brown. My major was rigorous. We wrote a lot of papers and did a great deal of research in those Communication classes. Academics have always played a huge role in my life; just as in basketball, I always wanted to have the highest test score and write the best paper. Writing was 1 of my favorite things to do, and I took great pride in it. More than anything else, I wanted to do well in school and graduate with honors, because from the time I was born my parents always told me that academics were far more important than basketball and were the gateway to my future.

JT: In 2000 you played one season in the CBA, but after suffering a knee injury you moved overseas to play basketball in Italy, New Zealand, England, and Argentina. What did you learn from those experiences, and how did they compare to college basketball?

I had some great experiences overseas. I met some great people, saw some great things, and had some great times. However, playing college basketball was no comparison to playing overseas. I valued the friendship and camaraderie of my college teammates far more than when I was overseas. It felt more like family in college and less like business.

JT: You were the video coordinator for the VCU basketball team. What did you do in that role, and what do you hope to do in the future?

Let me first say that I am grateful to have finally gotten into college basketball once again after trying for the last three years. It has definitely been an uphill battle. Currently, I assist our team with video editing (including self scouts, opponent scouts, and film exchange), community outreach, and a range of other duties. I also spend a lot time with our players, not only teaching them but also helping them gain a clearer understanding of what it takes and what it means to be a D-1 student-athlete. I enjoy spending time with our players a great deal and shedding some light on this process. In the future, I would like to become an assistant coach (and possibly a head coach) at the Division I level.

*Note: at the time of this interview Mike was at VCU; as noted above he's now an assistant at Delaware.

Mike is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in CAA history.

Delaware: Mike Pegues (2000) 2,030 PTS (#1), 785 REB (#5), conference Player of the Year

Drexel: Michael Anderson (1988) 2,208 PTS (#1), 724 AST (#1), 341 STL (#1), All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year

George Mason: George Evans (2001) 1,953 PTS (#3), 953 REB (#4), 218 STL (#1), 211 BLK (#1), 57.3 FG% (#3), All-American, three-time conference Player of the Year

Georgia State: Rodney Hamilton (1998) 1,515 PTS (#1), 535 AST (#1), 212 STL (#1), 83.8 FT% (#1)

Hofstra: Bill Thieben (1956) 2,045 PTS (#5), 1,837 REB (#1), two-time All-American

James Madison: Steve Stielper (1980) 2,126 PTS (#1), 917 REB (#1), All-American

UNC-Wilmington: Brett Blizzard (2003) 2,144 PTS (#1), 371 3PM (#1), 249 STL (#1), two-time All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year

Northeastern: Reggie Lewis (1987) 2,709 PTS (#1), 964 REB (#3), 226 STL (#2), 155 BLK (#3), three-time conference Player of the Year

Old Dominion: Odell Hodge (1997) 2,117 PTS (#3), 1,086 REB (#3), 286 BLK (#3), 55.5 FG% (#4), All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year

Towson: Devin Boyd (1993) 2,000 PTS (#1), 438 AST (#1), 264 STL (#2), All-American, conference Player of the Year

VCU: Eric Maynor (2009) 1,953 PTS (#1), 674 AST (#1), 168 STL (#4), 79.5 FT% (#3), two-time conference Player of the Year

William & Mary: Jeff Cohen (1961) 2,003 PTS (#2), 1,679 REB (#1), conference Player of the Year